Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
Robbinsville, North Carolina
Alfred Joyce Kilmer was an unlikely candidate to be immortalized with nature. He was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1886. His father, Fred, was Scientific Director for Johnson & Johnson who distributed Italian talc to the customers who complained of irritation when using some of the company’s medicated plasters - a practice that led to the introduction of Johnson’s Baby Powder in 1893. The younger Kilmer was a promising writer and poet whose work appeared in magazines and books of verse. His money came from writing definitions for Funk and Wagnalls’ The Standard Dictionary. With the publication of his short verse “Trees” in 1913, Kilmer found sudden fame and demand as a lecturer.
Joyce Kilmer enlisted in the National Guard after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917 and quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant. He sought increasingly hazardous duty and during a scouting mission in the Second Battle of the Marne, he was shot thought the head and killed at the age of 31. The combination of one wildly popular poem and a promising life cut short have led to far flung memorials to Joyce Kilmer including many in his native state of New Jersey, parks in New York and Chicago, a fireplace in Minnesota, and this forest in North Carolina. The Philolexian Society of Columbia University, a collegiate literary society of which Kilmer was vice president, holds the annual Alfred Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest in his honor.
In 1935 the Forest Service purchased land along the Little Tennessee River from the Gennett Lumber Company that included 3,800 acres of forest that had never been logged commercially, one of the largest tracts of virgin timber in the Appalachians. The land was dedicated as a living memorial to Joyce Kilmer, a small sliver of the 526,798-acre Nantahaha National Forest. The forest is populated with hemlocks and yellow poplars more than 20 feet in circumference and over 450 years old. The only way to see the giants is on foot, via a two-mile figure eight loop, and your dog is welcome. The largest trees are on the upper loop in the Poplar Grove, past the memorial plaque to Kilmer. On the trail don't spend all your time admiring the biggest trees - there are over 100 species of trees in the pristine forest.
From Robbinsville take NC 143W. After about 12 miles turn right on Joyce Kilmer Road (SR1134). Go two miles and turn left into the memorial forest. Plenty of road signs lead the way.
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